The Spectacle Blog

Is Israel Behind Sabotage of Iran’s Nuclear Centrifuges?

By on 11.19.10 | 9:40AM

A computer worm has impaired the functioning of Iran's nuclear centrifuges, fueling speculation that it was a deliberate cyber attack and that Israel is behind it. The New York Times reports:

The paternity of the worm is still in dispute, but in recent weeks officials from Israel have broken into wide smiles when asked whether Israel was behind the attack, or knew who was. American officials have suggested it originated abroad.

The new forensic work narrows the range of targets and deciphers the worm’s plan of attack. Computer analysts say Stuxnet does its damage by making quick changes in the rotational speed of motors, shifting them rapidly up and down.

Changing the speed “sabotages the normal operation of the industrial control process,” Eric Chien, a researcher at the computer security company Symantec, wrote in a blog post.

Those fluctuations, nuclear analysts said in response to the report, are a recipe for disaster among the thousands of centrifuges spinning in Iran to enrich uranium, which can fuel reactors or bombs. Rapid changes can cause them to blow apart. Reports issued by international inspectors reveal that Iran has experienced many problems keeping its centrifuges running, with hundreds removed from active service since summer 2009.

The article later notes:

Ralph Langner, a German expert in industrial control systems who has examined the program and who was the first to suggest that the Stuxnet worm may have been aimed at Iran, noted in late September that a file inside the code was named “Myrtus.” That could be read as an allusion to Esther, and he and others speculated it was a reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

Back in July, Eli Lake wrote an illuminating article about the U.S. and Israeli secret war of sabotage against Iran's nuclear program. And if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense strategically. The diplomatic and operational difficulties of an Israeli air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities has been well documented. With the whole world speculating about if or when Israel may take military action against Iran, launching small scale sabotage operations with plausible deniability would be a clever way of retarding Iran's nuclear development.

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